Out in Hollywood: To be or not to be gay?

After a decade of notable gains by gays and lesbians in Hollywood, there was quite a concentrated pre-Christmas flurry of attention given to being out in Hollywood.

First, Rupert Everett lamented his career after having coming out, and advised young stars to stay in the closet if they hoped to have a successful career. Colin Firth, who is straight but plays a gay character in  A Single Man, then chimed in, confirming that  he has observed it's  still difficult to be openly gay in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Meredith Baxter, who played '80s TV sitcom mother Elyse Keaton on Family Ties, finally came out at age 62.

(And all of this happened in the wake of Adam Lambert's much-criticized man-on-man kiss and homosensual performance on the American Music Awards.)

More recently, gay observers have criticized the trailer for Valentine's Day for excluding the gay storyline (between characters portrayed by Bradley Cooper and Eric Dane) in spite of showing scenes suggestive of sex (by heterosexuals, of course).

Selling homosexual content to the mass market may continue to be a challenge for studios and corporations (and, of course, the reason why there aren't any openly gay A-list actors).

Yet although Everett may be bitter and dissatisfied with his career trajectory, what he did achieve as an out gay actor shouldn't be ignored.

He is one of Hollywood's few gay pioneers who dared to venture into uncharted territory. Hardly any openly gay actors can boast being billed as a leading man, and Everett did have a few lead or prominent credits in mainstream fare such as An Ideal Husband, The Next Best Thing, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. While his career high and marketability as an out gay actor may have been short-lived, it's still progress. He may have ended up unwittingly as a test case, but it's certainly laid the groundwork for others to build upon in the future.

In fact, the number of male gay actors coming out (particularly those working on TV) has been steadily growing in numbers.

In addition to Everett, there's Ian McKellen (X-Men), Alan Cumming (X-Men 2), Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.), Chad Allen (Donald Strachey mysteries), T.R. Knight (Grey's Anatomy), Luke Macfarlane (Brothers & Sisters), David Hyde Pierce (Frasier), George Takei (Star Trek), John Barrowman (Torchwood lead), Darryl Stephens (Noah's Arc lead), and B.D. Wong (Oz). That's in addition to female stars such as Ellen DeGeneres, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), Sandra Bernhard, Lily Tomlin, Michelle Bonilla (ER), and many more.

The truth is that Everett, or any other openly gay actors, can't necessarily expect to have the same career path  that straight (or even closeted gay) actors have had. The same is true of any member of a minority group that hasn't had any precursors before them: breaking new ground is always unpredictable.

Disappointments and heartbreakers are par for the course.

While there are those that hit stumbling blocks, sometimes the results can be quite spectacular. Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh have both  made great strides for Asian  (North) American female actors  in Hollywood. (It should be noted, however, that they didn't face the same type of social taboos or discrimination that gay men do. On the other hand, it is notable that it has taken such a long time for female actors of Asian descent to reach their level.)

It's possible to be a trailblazer, but that often requires working even harder than usual, when it's tough enough to make it as it is. But more often than not, when you're busy leveling out the playing field, sometimes you don't necessarily get the chance to play. The hope is, however,  that it'll help to pave the way for others in the future.


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Dec 29, 2009 at 12:54pm

Out in , who gives a shit. One gets tired of the bunch.

Craig Takeuchi

Dec 29, 2009 at 1:43pm

The visibility of publicly out gay and lesbians matter in a world in which gays and lesbians are still beaten up on the streets of Vancouver, where the debate over gay marriage rages on in the U.S., and it's illegal (punishable by beatings, jail, or death) in some countries.
And it still matters in a world in which being gay or lesbian is still invisible, unspoken, forbidden, and negative stereotypes prevail in the absence of any positive or publicly accepted examples.


Dec 29, 2009 at 4:53pm

Good and important story. Thanks for this. It reads, however, as if Colin Firth himself is a gay man and not merely playing a gay character in his new film. Unless I missed something, Firth is a heterosexual in a heterosexual marriage.

Hey, there was a great line by someone in the very good documentary "Outrage" (about gay, closeted politicians who vote against gay-friendly initiatives). Someone said if every single gay person in the world 'came out' at the same time, there would be no need for a gay rights movement. Wouldn't that be awesome?

My dream is that everyone in Hollywood who's gay comes out at the same time, at a big 'Gay Outing Awards' show from the Kodak Theatre, like the Oscars. All their supportive families and friends and peers would be in the audience. Sir Ian McKellen and Cynthia Nixon would co-host. They could have a bunch of darkened closets as set pieces. One by one, a floodlight would snap on and out they'd come, to wild applause and gasps of amazement and appreciation. It would be so powerful, and such a force. If it's true that Tom Cruise and John Travolta play for the 'other' side, there'd be a show highlight where they step out from closets on either side of the side of the stage --closets that, until that moment, we didn't even realize were there and we think the show's over. But out they come, with music from Mission Impossible blasting. But then, I'm a dreamer.

david lawrence

Dec 29, 2009 at 5:29pm

Douglas Beane wrote a play The Little Dog Laughed which discusses how Hollywood tries to hide the gay charactors - which still exists in this day and age. "Those who are gay playing a gay role are bragging - a straight actor who plays a gay role is acting" The show which opens in Vancouver - shows how we are decieved so often by the publicists who know - "we have the truth - but can we handle it" Those who are "out" are taken,as to only play gay charactors. Those actors who are "closeted" are envied by the male audience, and lusted after by the female audience.

Craig Takeuchi

Dec 30, 2009 at 11:47am

I realize that I had mistakenly assumed everyone would either know Colin Firth was straight, or would click on the link to his interview to read his quote. However, I've adjusted the text to clarify that he is straight and he was talking about what he had observed.


Dec 30, 2009 at 5:35pm

You're awesome, Craig T. And I resolve to be less anal in 2010 and more carefree.


Dec 30, 2009 at 8:37pm

Interesting point there about the "great strides" of Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh. However there should've been something mentioned about the great stumbling blocks that still exist on the other side of the same coin ie. the lack of Asian American (male) actors in Hollywood. However underrepresented one may think gays are today, that level doesn't compare with what Asian American males face - not even close.